Interior minister wants tougher justice for criminals; New El Niño warning is imminent; Drug cartels have ‘infiltrated’ the banana industry, government says

Sep 6, 2023 | 0 comments

While the pace of arrests and drug seizures has increased, Interior Minister Juan Zapata said Tuesday that the next government must reform Ecuador’s justice system. “Again and again, we see dangerous criminals going free due to technicalities,” he said. “It is time to make changes to our judicial process and put the interests of citizens above those of criminals.”

He added: “Impunity in regard to criminals is the biggest problem Ecuador faces today.”

The government says it will officially announce that El Niño has begun in the coming weeks.

In a Tuesday press conference, Zapata said the states of emergency ordered by President Guillermo Lasso have been effective. “They have given police and the armed forces the authority to attack the drug traffickers and to put them behind bars, at least temporarily. My concern is that that when the emergency orders expire, too many of those who are apprehended are allowed to go free to commit more crimes.”

Claiming that “these are exceptionally challenging times,” Zapata said the president and National Assembly that take office at the end of the year must make “structural and procedural changes” to the justice system and allow law enforcement more “flexibility” to do its job.

In addition, he is urging changes to the country’s Human Mobility Law which allows easy access across Ecuadorian borders. “We know that criminals enter the country without security checks because their names are on our lists. This must end. The law should be amended and require security and background checks.”

El Niño warning is imminent
The committee tracking the development of El Niño says it will officially proclaim the weather phenomenon underway in the “coming weeks.” The Committee for the Study of El Niño (Erfen) says Pacific Ocean seawater temperatures continue to rise as El Niño develops. “All evidence suggests we will have a strong El Niño beginning in November, possibly as early as October, and its effects will be felt until March 2024,” Erfen said in a statement.

Erfen, which issued a yellow alert in July, a designation mandating that preparations begin, said ocean temperatures are approaching some of the highest readings on record. Temperatures offshore of Ecuador and Peru are 3.2 degrees Celsius above normal, Erfen said, while those in the central Pacific are 1.6 degrees above average.

“We urge that preparations for potentially catastrophic weather conditions continue,” Erfen said. “The country’s coastal region and elevations below 1,000 meters on the western side of the sierra should expect heavy rainfall and flooding. At higher elevations, there is the possibility of drought conditions that could affect the country’s electricity generation capacity.”

Government says drug cartels have infiltrated the banana industry
Ecuador’s Agricultural Ministry is increasing its surveillance of the country’s banana industry, saying it has been infiltrated by drug cartels for the purpose of shipping cocaine to Europe and the U.S. The ministry reports a surge in fraudulent shipping reports from banana exporters and says it is stepping up vigilance.

In 2022, the ministry says that 66 registered banana exporters were involved in drug seizures in foreign ports, primarily in Europe, with 24 of those being “recidivists.”

Minister of Agriculture Eduardo Izaguirre said there has been “significant infiltration” of the banana shipping network in recent years. “The number of falsified shipping reports is increasing and many of these cases are for the purpose of hiding illegal drugs within shipping containers,” he said. “We note a large increase in the number of shipping agents on our registry and believe many of these have drug cartel connections.”

Izaguirre says that the ministry is also reviewing ownership documents of banana plantations. “There is mounting evidence that some banana farms are now owned by drug cartels,” he said. “This not only facilitates illegal shipments but is an avenue for money laundering.”

He added: “Monitoring shipping activity is a massive job since we are the biggest exporter of bananas in the world. It is becoming clear, however, that the shipments are being used by the drug cartels and we are increasing our efforts to stop this activity.”

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